It’s cool and rainy here today. Well, at least it is here at our house, it’s snowing just a little bit up from us.

That difference is one of the things that struck me as truly strange when we first arrived here – how important elevation is to your daily life.    

Pretty much everyone who lives up out of the city (on any of the three mountain ranges around Grenoble) can tell you the elevation of their house, often to within 10m or less. Some places are even have their elevation as part of the actual name. When there is precipitation you are told the limite pluie/neige. It is something that seems to be as natural to speak of up here as your neighborhood would be in a normal city.

Although the area around Grenoble truly does experience four full seasons – it seems that altitude is one of the key factors that moderates them.  Elevation changes temperature, and therefore also rain vs. snow, and therefore skiing, driving, living conditions etc.   (our house is about 690m above sea level, in case you were wondering).

I have been told that – all else held equal – the temperature drops 0.6 degrees for every additional 100m of elevation.  We are close to 500m above Grenoble – which means that there is almost always a few degrees of difference between our house and the city.  However, since Grenoble is in a bit of a Y-shaped valley (two rivers coming in -merging and heading out as one) and thus three mountain ranges around it – the city can also get some strange inversions that can drop the temperature to be colder than us, or can have weather systems that sit on the city and absolutely trap the head (and smog) in the summer time.

Living in Grenoble, you would  never need snow tires, up where we are, you could possibly get away without them – but would be resigned to parking your car at the bottom of certain hills and walking home a few days a year.  Up just 10 kilometers past us you would (in a normal year – this year not being normal) likely need snow-chains to ensure you can get into your driveway.

One other strange thing that really shocked me the first time I learned it was the elevation of Grenoble.  Much of the city is around 200m above sea level.   To put that in context – when you are in Grenoble, surrounded by mountains, looking up at snow capped peaks and within a short drive of world-class ski resorts – you are almost half a kilometer LOWER than when you are sitting on the prairies in Edmonton.  (I know, weird right?!)